Becoming a Sports Reporter: Laura Okmin’s Path to the NFL on Fox

sports reporter jobs laura okmin

Building relationships is one of the most enjoyable parts of being a sports reporter for NFL on Fox’s Laura Okmin

News Directors from TV stations all across the country have one thing in common, they are all inundated with demo reels from anchors and reporters hoping to make a lasting impression and catch a break.

“After graduating, I sent tape after tape after tape after tape. And then I sent another tape,” remembers Laura Okmin, sideline reporter for the NFL on Fox.

“The hardest job to get in this business is your first job because you are being hired on potential not talent. But you only need one person who believes in you.  That person may be the first to see your reel, or the 97th. You don’t know, so you keep sending out those reels until you do.”

Okmin landed her first on-air sports reporter job in Montgomery, Alabama, market 118, making less money per year than it would cost to buy a 2001 Toyota Camry. But she ascending quickly, making a name for herself during stops in Chattanooga and Chicago, before going national at CNN/Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports.

For more on the tips, tricks and techniques to find sports reporter jobs, here’s the NFL on Fox’s Laura Okmin.

Sports reporter jobs can be extremely competitive – how should someone go about getting hired as a sports reporter?

Okmin: Why do people succeed in this hyper competitive business? Some of it is what you know, some is who you know, some of it is talent and timing. But, I think, the biggest reason for success early on is not giving up after your 10th, 20th..yes, even your 30th tape… gets rejected.

sports reporter jobs nfl on fox

Sideline reporter Laura Okmin collecting her thoughts before going on air

It’s so easy to want to quit – you’re watching your friends get jobs, make money, get their lives in order and you’re continuing to send tapes to places around the country you’ve never even heard of, and for an amount of money you have no idea how you can live on.

The biggest piece of advice I can give is the biggest cliche there is: don’t give up. When you get frustrated, send another tape. THAT tape may be the one.

I don’t remember how many tapes I sent out before I finally got my break – but it definitely wasn’t my first or my 10th. I made 10 thousand dollars for my first job in Montgomery, Alabama working sports on the weekends and news during the week.

It took a long time to crack that door open but I was there just one year until I moved up to Chattanooga, Tennessee. That first door was the hardest to push open. I’m so thankful that I kept pushing.

You ascended quickly going from Montgomery, to Chattanooga (87) and then WHAM – you’re in Chicago, market #3 during the Bulls dynasty. Why do you believe you rose so rapidly? 

Okmin: Some of it was, hopefully, talent, some of it was timing, and I hope much of it was that I worked my butt off, shooting my pieces, writing and editing everything I did and working on days off to get better.

In those days there weren’t many women in sports. I was the first (and only) woman in Montgomery and Chattanooga.  Sportschannel in Chicago was looking for a woman, in a tough sports town, that didn’t have many women covering their teams.

It very much helped that I was from Chicago and knew the city, the lingo, the passion, but it also helped that I wrote my own stories, knew how to cover a team and build relationships.

I was still very green-only two years in-and Chicago was a huge jump. A scary jump, but one of the greatest leaps I’ve ever taken. I never let myself question whether I belonged…I just worked hard every day to prove that I did.

Before you landed in Chicago, in Chattanooga you covered Terrell Owens before he was T.O. – what was he like back then?

Okmin: Terrell (definitely not T.O. back then) was one of the shyest, most humble, players I ever covered.

There wasn’t much media covering UTC so there was no need for sharpies or dances and I can’t imagine that kid doing any of that anyway. This goes back to building relationships. I covered Terrell in Chattanooga as well as a minor league baseball player for the Chicago White Sox who played for the Birmingham Barons named…Michael Jordan.

sports reporter jobs okmin with kobe bryant

As Laura Okmin’s career grew, so did the opportunities to cover larger events like Olympic Basketball, but starting in a small market was an important part of her process

Every young sports broadcaster is in such a hurry to get to the highest level, I was the same, but there is nothing more rewarding than building your career alongside the athletes you’ll eventually cover when you get to the higher markets.

I got to know Michael when he was a humble ballplayer trying to fit in. I would’ve never seen that side or gotten the access to him I did in the minor leagues if I started out in Chicago. I still keep in contact with many coaches and players I covered back then.

If you start out in a big city, you’re one of dozens and dozens of media covering a team. When you’re in a small city you’re one of a few and getting to know minor league players, college players and coaches who will rise along with you. You all are paying your dues together and that’s pretty special as you grow up watching and rooting for each other-they root for you as much as you root for them.

Those are relationships you start building which may come into play 15 years down the line in your career. I’m such a fan of starting in smaller markets and this is one of the big reasons why.

That brings us to an interesting part of all sports reporter jobs – developing sources. How does someone starting out, either recently graduated or beginning in a new market, develop sources?

Okmin: This is one of my favorite parts of the job, but that’s the reporter of 2013, I don’t think I would’ve said that in the early nineties when I was starting out and starting to make connections.

The answer is it takes work and it takes time. A lot of time. Like any relationship, patience and trust takes years to develop.

What I can say, is that it’s the most rewarding part of my job. A player I’ve covered for years gave me a great compliment recently saying he appreciates that of the ten times I reach out to him, I’ll ask for something I need only one time. That’s always been important to me.

I reach out often with no agenda and I think that’s so important if you’re truly building relationships…not just “sources.”  It will make all the difference when building your connections and your reputation. You don’t want someone not answering their phone because they know every time they see your name, it’s because you need something.

I want anyone who I go to, in work or in life, to feel appreciated, not used.

You mentor young women trying to break into sports broadcasting, what is the main piece of advice you try to give them?

Okmin: BE YOURSELF.

sports reporter jobs laura okmin with aaron rodgers

Sitting poolside with NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers isn’t a bad way to spend a work day.

It’s always wonderful and important to watch other broadcasters to see what you like and don’t like but make sure you don’t try to emulate anyone. What sets you part is…you.

I love putting on a tape of someone and seeing something I haven’t before and that only happens when you’re being authentic to who you are, on camera, and in life.

The other piece of advice is something women usually do well in life…listen.

As a woman, even now with so many in the sports business, we still feel we have to prove we know what we’re talking about. Don’t feel that way. I hope you’re looking for sports reporter jobs because you know and love sports so don’t make it about you, make it about the person you’re interviewing.

Stop thinking about what your next question is going to be and listen to what their answer is – that’s when an interview stops and a conversation happens.

You get there by being yourself and being a good listener.

About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the sports media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently, Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, do it.

And if you want to know where our privacy policy is before you submit your comments below, it's right here.

Comments

  1. I knew Laura since our school days at Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, IL, and she was as genuine, friendly, smart, capable, talented and hungry then as she is now. Just as she personally watched covered athletes from college and minor leagues athletes to the professional ranks, I and many of our GBN classmates have watched with pride as Laura grew from the 118 market to a national reporter. Her perseverance is definitely part of her character and why she has succeeded in this difficult industry. Way to go Laura!

    • Brian – I worked with Laura for about 6 years at CNN/Sports Illustrated and can say without question she’s one of the best people I’ve worked with in the crazy sports media world. I’ll be sure to pass on your nice comments to her… – Brian

  2. Anthony Jacks says:

    I have worked as a certified personal trainer and a premium services representative for the NY Jets and NY Giants for over 11 years. I would love the opportunity to represent the NFL in another position as a sports reporter. I have a high energy level and can easily motivate others around me with my positive attitude. My parents instilled in me the desire to be and do the best job I can do regardless of what that might be. I have dealt with many high level and celebrities in my position.

  3. This is very inspiring, especially for a young professional woman like me who is trying hard to break into the world of sports reporting. I love hockey and have a effortless way of communicating my passion for it. It just seems so hard to get work opportunities. Any additional tips or job links?

  4. BE YOURSELF. The best advice ever!!

  5. That is a great tip particularly to those new to
    the blogosphere. Simple but very accurate information… Thanks for sharing this one.

    A must read post!

  6. Katie Baatrup says:

    This article has really helped out a lot! I am a senior in high school and this job has been my dream since my freshman year. I do stats for my high school football team every Friday night and tonight I am meeting a guy from L.A. to talk to me about this job. He has had connections to the NFL and wishes to help me out. I have been reading your articles for almost an hour now and I just want you to know they are really helpful. So thank you. The advice has been appreciated!

    • Katie – I’m really happy to hear that – just be careful with people saying they have connections in the NFL and they want to help you get started. Know who they are, check their background and find out if they are legit before meeting them. It’s good to be driven and know what you want, just be safe and smart too. – Brian

  7. Kristen Gibson says:

    I am a senior at Manson High School in Manson, Washington (about 4 hours away from Seattle). I plan on attending University of Washington and majoring in Communication in pursuit of becoming a sideline reporter. I announced 2 quarters for every one of my high school’s football games this year and I will be doing a 30 hour internship with the Wenatchee Wild (semi-pro hockey team) starting this month. Is there any chance Laura might be willing to do a job shadow? If not, would you know of anyone who would be willing?
    Thank you,
    Kristen

    • She’s based out of Los Angeles and is always on the road travelling to games, so I doubt she would make for an easy job shadow. Check with your local stations first, you have a much better chance at getting in with them – talk to the folks at Root Sports, KJR, ESPN radio and Q13 – they all have some talented on air folks that I’m sure would be glad to let you job shadow them! – Best, Brian

  8. owenokmin says:

    I know Laura before her Glenbrook north days.It feels great as a parent and her father to read these comments. Her mom is proud, Go Girl,Your dad.

    • Mr. Okmin – pleasure to have you commenting here! I’ll have you know Laura and I worked together for about 6-7 years at CNN (and I tried to get her to move out to Seattle when I became a news director out there) and she is still one of my absolute favorite people in the world. Not just as an anchor or reporter… as a person. You and your wife did one hell of a job! – Brian

  9. Breanna Schroeder says:

    Thank you so much for doing this interview! I have been contemplating what exactly it is I want to do with my life. I’m currently in high school and am wondering if there are any programs that would allow me to learn what it is like to be a sideline reporter? Also, are there any special experiences I could take advantage of that would help me get in this business in the future?

    • High school is a good time to start – cover your teams, it doesn’t have to be for a big national outlet – start a local blog, or talk to the athletic director about posting on the school website. Write game summaries, interview coaches, ask questions and refine your craft. Pretend you are reporting for ESPN, what would be your 45 second synopsis of what just happened and what was most important that came out of that event. Find an angle! Even if you never get on a blog, or the school website you should still practice reading in front of yoru webcam, writing up questions, writing game stories. The best sideline reporters are great journalists! Brian

  10. I am a freshman at Michigan State University. I have always had a passion for sports but just gained interest in Sideline Reporting/Sports Broadcasting. I would like to start gaining experience now but don’t know where to begin. What do you think are some steps I should take? Thanks

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